Don Sweeney explains approach to flat salary cap, conversations with pending free agents

Scott McLaughlin
July 12, 2020 - 1:22 pm
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Part of the NHL and NHLPA's return to play agreement and extension to the collective bargaining agreement is a flat salary cap for at least the 2020-21 season, and possibly beyond.

That means the cap ceiling will remain at $81.5 million for next season. It will stay there until hockey-related revenue reaches $4.8 billion, which is what it was projected to be this season until the coronavirus pandemic interrupted. Obviously there's no guarantee revenue will return to pre-pandemic levels next season, hence the possibility the cap remains flat beyond 2020-21.

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All things considered, a flat cap isn't the worst news in the world for the Bruins. Depending on the source, they're projected to have anywhere from $16-19 million in cap space this offseason (Fluto Shinzawa projects $16M, Cap Friendly just under $18M, and @bruinscapspace on Twitter around $19M).

That puts them in better shape than some other top teams, and it could mean they have just enough to lock up unrestricted free agent Torey Krug as well as restricted free agents Jake DeBrusk and Matt Grzelcyk (we're also assuming fellow UFA Zdeno Chara will be back on another team-friendly deal as long as that's what both sides want).

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney certainly would've preferred to have a little more cap space to work with, but speaking on a Zoom call with reporters on Sunday, he said he and the organization had already done quite a bit of work on the flat cap scenario, as they had run simulations on several different cap possibilities for next season.

"Obviously everyone was hopeful that things would continue on an upward trajectory, but no one could've expected a pandemic to hit a bit of a stall for us all," Sweeney said. "So we've had to run those simulations. We try to operate in a situation where we're treating every player fairly from a compensation standpoint. ... We have some decisions to make, and we may have to make some hard ones."

Sweeney, who said he is planning to be one of the 52 people (with a maximum of 31 players) the Bruins will bring to the Toronto bubble, said he isn't opposed to talking to the Bruins' pending free agents and their representatives during training camp or the playoffs, but that it will be a case-by-case process and that he won't be overly aggressive in pushing those conversations right now.

"I've never stated that we'll never have conversations," he said. "Yeah, ultimately I think we'll have some. It's case-by-case. I'm not going to be overly aggressive as we go through this training camp Phase 3 and get to Phase 4 and ultimately play in the playoffs, but if something makes sense, we will do it. Some players are very particular about the fact they don't want to have those conversations until we're done, and I respect that as well. So we'll be in a position that we can have those conversations, but will I be aggressive? I think I'll just touch base with each and every one of them, and that includes RFAs that want to know where they're going to be when we start up next year."

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- Sweeney said players have until Monday at 5 p.m. to make a final decision about opting out, but that so far Steven Kampfer is the only Bruin he knows of that is doing so. Kampfer announced his decision Saturday night at the same time the team's training camp roster was announced.

- Sweeney also said it's possible that a couple Bruins won't quite be ready to go for Day 1 of training camp Monday as they work through the final steps of quarantine procedures for international travel. He said everything should be settled in the next couple days, though.

- Sweeney said all the feedback he has gotten is that everyone did a good job taking care of themselves and staying in shape during quarantine and should be ready to play.

- Sweeney was asked if the long layoff and possibility of having some games on back-to-back days could mean some postseason playing time for Jaroslav Halak after Tuukka Rask played every minute of the Bruins' postseason run last year. All he said is that it will all be determined by performance and how quickly those guys get up to game speed.

- Sweeney noted that gameplanning for the start of these playoffs is much different than past years not just because of the long layoff, but also because they don't have one set opponent yet. Last year the Bruins knew they were pretty much locked into a first-round series with the Maple Leafs well before the playoffs began. This year they have three different opponents to prepare for in the round-robin seeding tournament, and then they won't know their opponent for the conference quarterfinals until the qualifying round is over.

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Related: Bruins announce training camp roster; Steven Kampfer opts out